Group C preview

Cameroon, Egypt, Sudan and Zambia are drawn in Group C.

    Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o is a three-time winner of the African Footballer of the Year award [GALLO/GETTY]

    While main 2008 title rivals Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Ghana face difficult first round assignments, the 'Indomitable Lions' have been handed a favourable group draw that pits them against Egypt, Sudan and Zambia.
     
    Egypt, the defending champions, are given little chance of a sixth title, Sudan lack experience after a 32-year Cup absence and unpredictable Zambia rely too heavily on too few stars.
     
    Samuel Eto'o, Barcelona striker, is destined to become the greatest Cameroon footballer, surpassing even 1990 World Cup hero Roger Milla.
     
    At just 26-years of age, Eto'o has already been voted African Footballer of the Year a record three consecutive times and finished among the top three in a Fifa World Footballer of the Year poll.
     
    Meanwhile at 70-years of age, German coach Otto Pfister has taken on one of the most demanding coaching posts in Africa, as anything less than third place could spell a swift end to his tenure in charge of Cameroon.
     
    That was the target reportedly set by sports minister Augustin Edjoa, who stirred a storm by luring Pfister from Sudan in November against the wishes of football officials who did not include him in a five-man shortlist.
     
    Egypt
     

    Egypt goalkeeper Essam El Hadary could be
    in for a busy tournament [EPA]

    Fifa world rank: 35
     
    Coach: Hassan Shehata
     
    Player to watch: Essam al-Hadary
     
    Best Africa Cup finish: Champions 1957, 1959, 1986, 1998, 2006
     
    Egypt hold the record for the most African Cup titles, and go into Ghana 2008 once again as defending champions, however few give the 'Pharaohs' any chance of making it six titles as they battle with an exhausted squad and injured players.
     
    Heavy legs and tired minds were evident when Cairo club giants Al-Ahly slumped to a 3-1 loss to Tunisian visitors Etoile Sahel in the 2007 African Champions League final that produced one of the greatest shocks of the 42-year competition.
     
    Several of those exhausted 'Red Devils' will be expected to play key roles for Egypt, with things made worse by the absence of injured Ahly star midfielder Mohamed Barakat, a pivotal figure two years ago when the hosts won their record fifth title.
     
    Coach Hassan Shehata could also be missing leading striker Ahmed 'Mido' Hossam due to injury, making his decision to omit consistent Ahly forward Ahmed Bilal slightly puzzling.
     
    Egypt generally excel in defence and most coaches in Ghana would relish having veteran goalkeeper Essam al-Hadary between the sticks, but the defending champions look short of fire power up front with Ahly striker Emad Moteab injury prone.
     
    Sudan
     
    Fifa world rank: 94
     
    Coach: Mohamed Abdallah
     
    Player to watch: Richard Lado
     
    Best Africa Cup finish: Champions 1970
     
    Riot police were needed to control fans at Khartoum airport in mid-2007, after Sudan returned triumphant from a qualifier against Seychelles on the Indian Ocean island, meaning they had made it into the African Cup of Nations finals for the first time since 1976.
     
    Sudan topped qualifying Group 4 ahead of Tunisia, transforming coach Mohamed Abdallah and his squad into national heroes as a country torn by civil war finally had something to celebrate.
     
    The 'Desert Hawks' will stand alone among the 16 Nations Cup challengers, as they rely exclusively on local players, the majority of whom come from Omdurman club giants and fierce rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Merreikh.
     
    Richard Lado, although very tall and very thin, is the defensive rock for Sudan, while captain Haytham Mustafa is the organiser in midfield.
     
    In a tough group, Sudan are the outsiders and even one victory would complete a fairytale return to the big time.
     
    Zambia
     

    Zambia's Chris Katongo scored a hat-trick in 12 
    minutes against South Africa [GALLO/GETTY]

    Fifa world rank: 67
     
    Coach: Patrick Phiri
     
    Player to watch: Chris Katongo
     
    Best Africa Cup finish: Runners-up 1974, 1994
     
    Zambia's last four appearances at the Africa Cup of Nations finals have all resulted in first round exits, and that trend is set to continue for 'Chipolopolo' or the 'Copper Bullets' in 2008.
     
    Coach Patrick Phiri, former national team striker, has been a hero and a villain when in charge of Zambia.
     
    Chipolopolo failed to qualify for the 2004 Nations Cup and Phiri was sacked, only to be restored three years later after former African Footballer of the Year Kalusha Bwalya quit the post.
     
    With the axe once again dangling over his head, Phiri inspired his players to a sensational 3-1 away triumph over South Africa to snatch top spot in Group 11 and an invitation to Ghana.
     
    Chris Katongo, Denmark-based former soldier, is the man who got Zambia through to the African Cup finals with a 12-minute hat-trick in their final qualifying match against South Africa.
     
    It's not as if the South Africans didn't know about Katonga, as he finished leading league scorer with 15 goals in their 2006-2007 national championship, despite moving to Danish club Brondby midway through the season.
     
    Zambia's squad includes a handful of players from their under-20 team that competed at the world championships in Canada in mid-2007.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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